Written by Kate Hudson
This Easter marks the 60th anniversary of the first Aldermaston march. While CND itself had been founded at a mass public meeting on 17th February 1958, the single event that most put it on the public map was the Aldermaston March, held over Easter that year. The Easter march to the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire, the main location for the research, development and production of Britain’s nuclear warheads, was originally an initiative of the Direct Action Committee (DAC), which formed a committee to organise the march in December 1957. This committee included Hugh Jenkins, who was later to become chair of CND from 1979-81, Frank Allaun MP, Walter Wolfgang from the Labour Hydrogen Bomb Committee and Pat Arrowsmith, who became the march organiser. The leadership of the newly formed CND was lukewarm about the project initially, stating that it would ‘give its blessing to the [DAC] plans [for Aldermaston] and should publicise them, but should make clear at this stage of the Campaign they could not be very closely involved.’ In fact, CND members participated extensively in the event, and it was immediately, inextricably linked with the new-born CND in the public mind.
Rapidly, the Aldermaston March, which was repeated over a number of years and on and off over the decades, became synonymous with CND. Most recently, the Aldermaston March took place in 2004, raising public awareness of the likely research and development of a new generation of nuclear weapons at AWE Aldermaston.
A lasting consequence of the first march was the famous symbol produced for the march organisers by the artist Gerald Holtom, which became CND’s own symbol and is universally recognised as the sign of peace. According to Peggy Duff, who worked for CND in its early years, the artist explained the symbol in the following way: ‘First, the semaphore for the initials ‘n’ and ‘d’. Second, the broken cross meant the death of man, the circle the unborn child. It represented the threat of nuclear weapons to all mankind, and, because this was new, the threat to the unborn child.’ Very soon thereafter, the symbol came to adorn badges, posters, leaflets, mugs, banners; and ever since has been graffitied on to walls and virtually any available flat surface all over the world.
The DAC’s leaflet for the march welcomed ‘all who are opposed on any ground to nuclear weapons, whether possessed by the British, American or Russian Governments’. It urged people to ‘walk for a weekend, a day or an hour’, and remarkably large numbers did so, despite the fact that it was the wettest Easter weekend since 1900. Almost 6,000 attended the send-off rally in Trafalgar Square, and around 4,000 began the 52-mile, 4-day march. Around 8,000 converged on Aldermaston on the final day, marching the last mile in silence. These numbers far exceeded the expectations of the organisers, who had thought they might get around 300.
This was the beginning of what was to become Britain’s most enduring mass movement, and protest at Aldermaston has always been at its heart. The marches continued over subsequent years, with numbers expanding, giving voice to the enormous public outpouring of feeling against nuclear weapons. Aldermaston remains Britain’s nuclear bomb factory, vast amounts of money continue to be poured into it, and buildings proliferate within its stark perimeter fence. Our protest at Aldermaston will continue, until this deadly manufacture ends.
Join us on Easter Sunday from 12 to 2pm, to pay tribute to those who have fought for peace and disarmament over the decades, and to recommit to the struggle for a world free of nuclear weapons.